Four steps to building a customer centric agency

Local businesses that focus on customer centricity are roughly 60% more profitable than their competitors. Yep, you read that right. On a global scale, an aspiration to become the world’s most customer centric company helped Amazon - a small Seattle bookseller - grow into to a $US1 trillion company.Bet that got your attention! But wait... what are we really talking about here?

Customer focussed vs customer centric

Customer focused and customer centric are two very similar terms with some subtle (but important) differences.Customer focused businesses tend to look out at a customer and try work out what to sell them. They judge success by the number of transactions, use processes that work well for their salespeople, and make decisions based on historical data. To say that every business is at least somewhat customer focussed is a pretty safe assumption. If they’re not, well… they’re unlikely to be in business for very long.On the other hand, running a customer centric business, as the name would indicate, involves putting the customer at the core. Customer centric agencies focus on exceptional service both before and after the sale to drive recurring revenue, use processes that work well for the sellers and buyers, and make decisions based on customer feedback as well as historical data. As a bonus, a customer centric approach also leads to an improved corporate culture - meaning more motivated employees.It sounds simple enough - perhaps you’ve already started your journey toward re-orienting your business strategy around the customer - but there’s more to it than that. If there wasn’t, everyone would be super successful, right?

Becoming a customer centric agency

Customer centricity doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a shift that requires the alignment of four critical actions, which can take a bit of time.

1. Take an outside-in approach

Cast your mind back, if you will, to the last time you had a crack at a puzzle. It was probably during a visit to the grandparents, or perhaps by candlelight during a power cut. The first thing you reached for was probably a corner piece. Why? Well, it’s simple. You needed to set the foundations before you had a chance of filling in the middle correctly. That nondescript blue middle piece could’ve been the subject’s shoe, but it could just as easily have been a part of the sky - so it was best left till later. You can’t put customers first if you don’t know what they want. So, the first piece of the puzzle is adopting an outside-in approach - using their needs as guideposts for service development. When times are tough, businesses with an inside-out strategy might focus on cutting costs and services, rather than driving customer value.An outside-in business, on the other hand, continuously examines itself from the consumer’s perspective to work out whether they’re delivering what the customer truly needs. They work to solve, not to sell. For example, when Ron Davis took over Umpqua Bank, he looked at the bank from the customer’s perspective (instead of the bankers’ perspective) and completely reimagined the experience. The branches got a facelift, and started looking more like home lounge rooms than banks. They also started holding classes on investing - and it worked. Umpqua’s customer centric approach helped the business grow from 6 to 200 locations and over $11 billion in assets.  In most business models, those in charge receive customer feedback second or third hand - which can make it difficult to get real, unbiased insights. Luckily for you, real estate agencies work a little differently - you’re probably dealing with buyers and sellers all the time. That means you’ve got endless opportunities for direct interaction with your customers to work out what it is they truly need. Ask questions, and listen.

2. Establish a strategic narrative around that approach

A strategic narrative goes beyond just what you do - it is the guiding light for your agency’s highest aspirations. A quality narrative unites yourself and your agents behind a common purpose, every day. It sets the tone and structure for all your future interactions with your customers, and with each other.  It’s got two functions:

  1. explaining how that shared purpose will be fulfilled, and
  2. defining the roles necessary to fulfil that purpose.

Plus, it can also help the agents in your office develop a strong attachment to your agency, which will help with Step 3.So, how do you get one?At the very center of every strategic narrative is a shared purpose, meaning the outcome you and your customer are working toward together. For example, Nike’s mission is “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world”. What makes this a shared purpose is that Nike actively encourages people to inspire each other - see how Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan fits in nicely? Together, the mission and the slogan define the respective roles: Nike provides the shoes, the equipment and the clothing, and the customer brings their drive, discipline and competitive spirit.Now that you’ve taken the time to understand what it is that your customers want, you should be able to turn that into a mission. For example, your mission might be something along the lines of: “to match families with homes they can build memories in”. To make this a shared approach, you could put processes in place that encourage your sellers to share the memories they’ve had in their house - and then work those memories into a story-like ad text.    The next step is to clearly articulate how your agency and your agency’s customers will fit in to that, and put everyone on the same page about it. For example, your agency brings the expertise: the matchmaking skills. Your seller customer brings their beautiful story, and your buyer customer brings their imagination.

3. Get everyone to buy in to the new approach

Customer centricity involves a whole-of-agency cultural transformation, requiring buy-in from every team member of staff - from the agency owner through to the receptionist. If employees don’t align with the customer centric brand you’re trying to establish, then your agency cannot align with customers. Employees need to believe in what they’re doing.There are plenty ways to do get started. It’s probably a good idea to circulate your strategic narrative, and quash any questions as soon as possible. Employees at Ritz-Carlton Hotels do 15-minute daily lineups where team members share the positive experiences they delivered the day before. This helps build customer centric momentum, and highlights best practices for other employees to adopt.You could do the same by encouraging your team to share the positive seller and buyer experiences they have. If your strategic narrative is focussed on helping customers to make memories, for example, you could circulate happy snaps of the buyers on settlement day. Then, encourage the listing agent to check in with the buyers in a few month’s time to have a chat about how great things are going for them in their new house (fingers crossed).  Another option could be to ask your agents and admin staff to share ideas about how to deliver excellent customer service in the moments that matter, and then workshop those ideas across the agency.  Staff are more likely to buy in to changes (like a shift to a customer centric mindset) if they played an active part in influencing that change.

4. Use technology to makes the experience better

Once you’ve done all of the above, technology can help you give your strategy an extra bit of oomph.  Customer centric businesses are comfortable stepping back and letting customers drive interactions. Rather than tell customers what they do, they listen and find out how to help.Part of using technology to make the experience better for customers is communicating with your buyers and sellers in the way they want to be communicated to - whether that’s via text, email, phone call, social media or robotic carrier pigeon - and letting them reach out first. Another part of this is using technology to continuously capture, sort and interpret data so you are always up-to-date with customer needs. Remember, a centric centric business bases its decision on historical data as well as customer feedback. So, you need to be inputting all of your customer feedback in to your CRM, and reviewing it to determine whether those needs are shifting. And finally, your CRM should give you a single view of every customer - so long as your agents have been using it correctly. For example, you should be able to see when a contact last moved house, that they were looking for something with a nursery, and then in a few years time, you can give them a ring to see if they’re looking to move closer to schools.  And those, friends, are the four ways to start implementing a customer centric strategy in your agency. Pull all of the above together and you’re well on the way to providing your sellers and buyers with exceptional customer service, that drives repeat business and referrals.

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